The previous episode of Vice Principals saw the show finally start to establish itself. What’s been a rocky, unfocused season started to come together, as “Circles” dug into the character psychology of Lee Russell. That focus on character allowed for a certain amount of depth to shine through. Suddenly the crass nature of the humor—especially Russell’s continuously vulgar and crude behavior—wasn’t simply shock value, but rather a way of presenting how broken some of these characters are. With the characters more firmly established, “The Foundation Of Learning” sees Vice Principals switching gears a bit, going for a more low-stakes, low-key approach to the story its telling, and the show is better off for it.

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Rather than the sprawling, messy, and ill-defined nature of the first few episodes, “The Foundation Of Learning” presents a much more streamlined narrative, while also taking the time to once again use its B-story to deepen our understanding of the show’s characters. The episode is a caper of sorts. Gamby and Russell “discover” that 600 textbooks are missing from the school board’s warehouse—they’re stashed in a school bus in Russell’s backyard—despite the fact that they were signed for by Mrs. Leblanc, a respected and longtime English teacher at North Jackson High. Of course, the missing textbooks are all part of an elaborate setup by Gamby and Russell to get Dr. Brown to confront the beloved teacher and then have the rug pulled out from under her after the books are “found” again.

While the early episodes of the season struggled to define the competition going on between Gamby, Russell, and Brown, “The Foundation Of Learning” features some of the best interplay between all three characters of the season thus far. There’s a camaraderie developing between Gamby, Russell, and Brown, mostly built on lies and secrets, but also a weird sense of respect and understanding. They all know they’re playing a larger game of workplace politics, and they bond over that understanding. So, when Gamby tells Brown that he doesn’t like Mrs. Leblanc, Brown doesn’t miss a beat and responds with, “and is there anybody at the school that you do like, Mr. Gamby?” She knows the type of person Gamby is, and by the time “The Foundation Of Learning” cuts to the credits, she also has a better understanding of who Lee Russell is, phlegm and all.

Vice Principals has been gradually digging deeper into its characters motivations and psychology, and this episode continues that streak. Even outside of the growing understanding, and eventual mistrust between Brown, Gamby, and Russell, “The Foundation Of Learning” takes time to focus on adding layers to Ms. Snodgrass. Up to this point she’s been nothing but a vague romantic interest for Gamby, a character absent of any agency or any real depth. Here, she becomes something more fully realized. The cold open focuses strictly on her. She’s sleeping with Bill Hayden, the history teacher who ran the field trip a few weeks back. There’s a central misunderstanding within their relationship though. She seems to be considering their fling a relationship, while he mentions putting things on pause because she no longer has the same free period as he does.

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The scene itself, with Hayden being disgustingly condescending and dismissive, is a great cold open, but it’s the follow through that really matters here. We get to see that Ms. Snodgrass is a deeply insecure individual—not unlike Gamby, which becomes important after Snodgrass sees Hayden sneaking away with the new, young TA—and a quick mention of her being overweight in her high school days adds to our understanding of her character. Jody Hill’s work often explores how outsiders and misunderstood people come together to create some sort of family, and that begins to happen in “The Foundation Of Learning.” Snodgrass sees a fellow outsider in Gamby. Sure, she never gave him much of a shot before, but that’s because he’s never really opened up to her and shown her his true self. He’s always played a part. Here, he tells her about how his daughter’s interest in motocross, which is the result of his ex-wife’s new partner, is hard for him to deal with. For the first time in awhile he feels like he can’t exactly relate to his daughter. So, in typical Gamby fashion, he tries too hard to please her. He spends some time practicing, with the aid of Snodgrass, “going 12 o’clock” on his motorbike before crashing and burning in front of his daughter at her motocross event. While that might lead to him having a further strained relationship with her, it’s also a moment of vulnerability that brings him closer to Snodgrass. As they drive back from the event, they hold hands, Snodgrass comforting him and showing that she understands his struggle.

Really, “The Foundation Of Learning” is about people revealing themselves in one form or another. Dr. Brown reveals herself to be more than just a qualified principal. It turns out she’s perhaps every bit as ruthless and conniving as Russell, as she has no trouble going at Mrs. Leblanc aggressively as possible, which would potentially lead to her downfall if Russell didn’t also, accidentally, reveal himself. After the case of the missing textbooks is settled, Dr. Brown can’t quite piece together how the oversight happened. She’s suspicious to say the least. Then, she walks in on Russell spitting into her coffee. No amount of playing it off like a bug flew in his mouth will work. He’s busted. Another person reveals their true self, and this twisted family of characters gets a little more complicated, and a lot more entertaining. It’s a good look for Vice Principals.

Stray observations

  • This episode really does find the perfect balance between being funny and sweet. One-liners abound, hence the predominance of them in the Stray Observations.
  • “I’m trying to break her in, treat her like shit so she’ll do better.”
  • “Who’s Ray?” “He’s a man with limited abilities.”
  • I continue to be delighted by Gamby’s hatred of Ray, literally the nicest person on this show. He even cheers for Gamby to go 12 o’clock!
  • “This calls for pizza. I say margherita, what say you?”
  • “I can’t believe you have a nemesis named Ray. What a stupid fucking name.”
  • “Since you decided you’re into motocross I assumed you’re not going to college.”
  • Maybe the best line of the night: “Bitch went on a rant straight out of Stand And Deliver.”

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